Kanawha River study

West Virginia American Water's 2015-2016 Comprehensive Water Quality Study of the Kanawha River

West Virginia American Water recently completed a year-long, comprehensive water quality study of the Kanawha River between Montgomery and Charleston. The company commissioned this $1.3 million study to collect water quality and sediment data to evaluate the Kanawha River as a potential alternate source of supply for its Kanawha Valley Water Treatment Plant on the Elk River.

In 2014, the West Virginia Legislature strengthened state laws aimed at protecting the state’s drinking water sources and required water systems to evaluate alternate water sources as part of new Source Water Protection Plans. In 2015, at the request of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) , the Legislature re-designated a 72-mile stretch of the Kanawha River from Diamond to Point Pleasant as a West Virginia Public Water Supply “Category A” waterway. This designation had not been applied to this section of the river for decades due to potential water quality concerns related to industrial discharges.

Although the re-designation established protections of this river segment from future discharges, it did not include or require any analysis of the river’s current suitability as a drinking water source. Therefore, West Virginia American Water hired a professional engineering and environmental consulting firm to help it develop and complete the most comprehensive water and sediment study ever undertaken of the Kanawha River. State regulators were also closely involved in developing the study methodology.

The study, which spanned from June 2015 to June 2016, analysed water samples collected from multiple locations, depths and distances from the riverbank across a range of weather events and flow conditions. Hundreds of samples were analysed by certified laboratories for more than 150 parameters, including Federal Safe Drinking Water Act primary and secondary drinking water standards, West Virginia’s “Category A” Water Quality Standard and parameters on the U.S. EPA’s Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule 3 list. Due to past industrial, chemical and mining use of the Kanawha River, the study also examined more than 50 sediment samples for total organic carbon, metals, polychlorinated biphenyls, volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds and dioxin to identify contaminants in the river bottom, which could potentially be released back into the water over time.

This level of sampling and analysis far exceeded typical requirements for the evaluation of a drinking water supply. However, to seriously consider the Kanawha River as backup supply for the company’s largest water system, sound and comprehensive empirical data was necessary – particularly with the river’s history of industrial use and lack of historical water quality data.

The 25,000 data points resulting from this study identified only 10 of more than 150 parameters above the associated water quality standards, which represent less than 2 percent of the total number of samples collected. Many contaminants can potentially be removed through conventional water treatment processes; however, because the study compared raw (untreated) water to drinking (treated) water standards, additional treatability studies would be necessary to determine if the water can be treated to meet all drinking water standards.

West Virginia American Water continues to review the 585-page report, which was finalized on Sept. 22, 2016 and shared with the WVDEP and WVBPH. The study is one of the first steps in evaluating the feasibility of using the Kanawha River as an alternate drinking water source. Other factors include treatability studies, intake site availability, permitting, ability to microtunnel a 48- to 60-inch pipe under downtown Charleston, rate impact to customers, and approvals from both the WVBPH and Public Service Commission (PSC). Preliminary engineering reports estimate that constructing a second intake on the Kanawha River would cost $56-$137 million. 

Executive Summary

Full Kanawha River Study